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CABBI Researchers Collaborate on Oilcane Pilot Project

From southeastern Florida to northern Mississippi to the Midwestern Corn Belt, CABBI scientists, including our own Don Ort and Steve Long, have struck sustainable oil with sugarcane. But the crop’s potential value to the renewable energy sector earns this particular variety a more appropriate designation: oilcane.

A groundbreaking endeavor uniting CABBI’s Feedstock Production and Conversion themes is coming to fruition with the fall 2020 harvest.

By analyzing a sugarcane variety specifically designed to divert natural sugars for oil production, researchers can provide sustainable, plant-based fossil fuel alternatives.

The initial seeds of this project were sown as a result of CABBI Feedstock Production Investigators John Shanklin and Fredy Altpeter’s work on the PETROSS (Plants Engineered to Replace Oil in Sugarcane and Sweet Sorghum) DOE ARPA-E project. Their teams at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) and University of Florida, respectively, manipulated lines of sugarcane to accumulate elevated lipid content compared to their wild-type counterpart.

In addition to wild-type sugarcane, which was analyzed as a control group, two genetically engineered lines were used in this project: the first is higher in oil content and yields lower levels of biomass due to resource diversion for oil production; the second produces moderate oil levels but exhibits biomass production similar to the wild-type.

After careful cultivation in the lab and in the greenhouse, Altpeter’s team prepared the plants for field trials in Florida and sent source material to two additional CABBI test sites: Mississippi State University and the Illinois Energy Farm. At Mississippi State, lab groups led by Nancy Reichert and Brian Baldwin used the source material provided by Altpeter to respectively propagate and cultivate the sugarcane lines in field trials.

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Publication Date: 10/26/2020
Photo credits: Jenna Kurtzweil
Editor: Jenna Kurtzweil